They say you should plan your lighting design at the same time as your plumbing. That’s not a bad start, but in reality, you cannot start planning it early enough.
If you’re designing a build from scratch, your lighting design needs to be in your mind before your first consultation with an architect. Where is the natural light? Where is the natural light at different times of day? What about different times of year? How will you capture and harness that light? What do you like and dislike in different rooms?
Even if you’re only renovating, don’t start thinking about installing another set of downlights when the top coat is already dry. When people tell you to plan your lighting scheme with the plumbing, that’s certainly when you should be installing it: get your new fittings in when it won’t interfere with any finishes or require repainting as a result of the process.
But plan ahead!
And if you’re not getting the builders in?
If you’re looking to rejuvenate existing spaces by optimising the lighting design, then in a lot of ways that can be the most exhilirating restriction to exercise your creativity within, and certainly the most rewarding, when you see just how much you can transform a space with relatively minor adjustments!
So, with all of that in mind, and obviously having read closely the related post on the importance of lighting… Then, without further ado, let’s get into….
The Beginners Guide to Lighting Design
- Start by creating a mini-brief for yourself. For each room ask yourself these questions:
- What’s the space used for? Think of all the activities each room usually accommodates and which ones you want to promote.
- What do you want to feature in each room? What are the one, two or three things that you want your guests to be drawn to? This will help refine your accent lighting choices.
- How much natural light does each room get and where is it coming from? Is it south-facing and bathed in sunlight, or is it north-facing and muted by indirect light only?
- At what time of day is each space used? Is it a breakfast nook only, an evening TV den, or an all-day-long living area.Your answers for each space will guide the kinds of light you need and where.
- Generally, if your room’s windows face north and east, you’ll need to maximise the quality and quantity of daylight. The best ways to do this:
- No heavy window treatments! Make sure there’s nothing to stop the light getting as far into the room as possible.
- Try using mirrors to help reflect light around the room.
- Conversely, rooms with south or west-facing windows will benefit from devices to control light. For example:
- Blinds or screens in front of the window to diffuse the light,
- Matte walls and fabrics inside the room will help to ‘absorb’ the light.
- Use a UV and light filtering film on the windows themselves or sheer window treatments to cut down on glare without losing ambience.
- Sketch up a plan of your room, including any fixtures like doors, windows, fireplaces etc. and also any existing power sources. Block out where you’re thinking large pieces of furniture or artwork will go. Grid-paper is your friend! Mark in the direction that most people will most often be facing.
- Now you’ve opened up your windows (and skylights), think about your lighting scheme. Try to decide on your scheme before you start decorating, so you can plan the position of plugs, switches and wall, floor and ceiling lights. This needs to be a balance between the three lighting categories: general, accent and task lighting. A good scheme for any room will include all three:
- Ambient Lighting: for background illumination
- Accent Lighting: draws your attention to particular features
- Task Lighting: gives you illumination for particular activities
- Use lamps and portable uplighters as a quick and easy way to help you test your lighting design. Position them around your space to see how you feel. Eventually you’ll settle on the position that works best for you.
- Think about how you’ll maintain your lighting as well: recessed ceiling lights might seem right for your look, but if your ceilings are high and you have a fear of ladders, they’re not going to be so great. And if you have young children or pets running around, you’ll likely want to minimize the number of table lamps with exposed, trailing cables that are always so tempting to be tugged.
- In small rooms, aim to light all four corners of the room. This will make the space seem bigger. Using lights with vertical beams can also give an increased perception of height.
- When it comes to choosing your bulbs, remember that artificial lighting will tend to be either warm (having a red-yellow hue – great for intimacy and warmth)or cool (having a blue-green emphasis for chilled-out serenity). Be sure to choose the spectrum that suits the room and how you plan to use it. Of course, if you don’t want to commit to a single mood, there’s an ever increasing range of adjustable LED bulbs, which are a great option, not just for gadget fiends, but for anyone looking to maximise the utility of their spaces.
- Remember to consider the materials used in your light fittings themselves. The opacity/clarity of the bulb will dramatically effect the distribution and direction of the light it produces, as will the nature of the fitting that covers it, whether it’s transparent, reflective, matte or opaque and highly directional.
- And before you lock everything down, take a moment to consider the flow of you scheme from one room to the next. Everything we’ve focussed on is about applying lighting design principles within isolated spaces, which is fine, because once we’re in a room, aside from windows onto the outside world, we do tend to enjoy them in isolation, but take a moment to consider your transitions from room to room; is one room dark while the adjacent is bright? Making sure that the main light sources in each room are easily activated and deactivated (sensible switch placement!) will ensure that your house flows comfortably from room to room.
The more you experiment with lighting design, the more you’ll appreciate it’s awesome power to transform your spaces!
Do you have any questions on lighting design options? Let us know about your adventures in lighting design below.